Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Update from SFUSD's Student Nutrition Committee

This from the SFUSD Student Nutrition & Physical Activity Committee:

As students head back to school, there is good news on the school lunch front. All lunches served in the SFUSD now meet the Gold Standard of the USDA's Healthier US Schools Challenge. Meals will include more dark green and orange vegetables, such as spinach, sweet potatoes, collards, and broccoli, and more legumes. Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and whole grain breads will continue. Even the breadcrumbs on the ever-popular chicken nuggets will be whole grain - and the chicken is made from whole pieces of breast meat, not "chopped and formed" dark meat, and baked, not fried. More varieties of fresh fruit will be available as well as a few more choices of cut up fruit (in its own juice, never syrup.) More salad bars will open at the few middle and high schools which don't already have one. The middle and high school salad bars will have added choices, including corn and beans daily. Schools without salad bars will see installation of a dome covered server for fresh leafy greens right in the lunch line, and a wider variety of fresh raw vegetables changing daily. Beginning in October, all schools will offer new entrée choices featuring more whole grains, legumes, and dark green/orange vegetables.

At the middle and high schools, the old system, which provided cafeteria service of government-reimbursed meals in one line and other a la carte selections available for purchase in a different line, has been eliminated. The new system offers more choices, all of which are available to all students, including low-income students who receive free lunch. All items are now sold as complete meals, which under federal requirements means they are all now available to students who qualify for free lunch. Students may select traditional cafeteria options with a salad bar, or choose from options like freshly made sandwiches, rice bowls, pizza or bagel with sun butter. All entree items will include vegetables, fruit, and milk for $3, or free to low-income students.

Of course, all of this better food comes at a cost. Studies show that healthier food costs more than junk food, and that the price difference is increasing

In addition, new federal regulations are expected to require that paid meals not be priced below the amount the government provides as reimbursement for a free meal. As a result, the price for paid lunch will now be $3 at all levels; breakfast price will remain at $1.50 and adult meals also will not increase ($2. for breakfast and $3.50 for lunch.)

SFUSD families may now prepay for students' cafeteria meals – by the month, by the week or on their own schedule. The new MealpayPlus program allows families to register at www.mealpayplus.com and conveniently prepay by credit card, debit card or electronic check online or by phone. MealpayPlus speeds up service in the cafeteria and eliminates the need for kids to carry lunch money to school. Families may also pay by check or cash at school, or may choose to send checks by mail. MealpayPlus also allows families, including those who qualify for free meals, to view their students' history of cafeteria purchases. You will need your student's ID number or H0 number, which is found on report cards and other school materials, or may be obtained from your school office.


  1. This is great news. Will there be more elementary school salad bar roll outs this year?

  2. There is no plan at present to open any more elementary school salad bars; the small number of middle and high schools which don't already have bars will be getting them (Gateway, for example.) The elementary schools will all have fresh greens with dressing, or broccoli, twice a week (part of the effort to serve more dark green leafy veg); in addition, a variety of cut up raw vegetables will be offered several days a week, including zucchini, cucumber, celery, jicama, and the ever popular baby carrots.

    In reality, the elementary school salad bars never became as popular as they are in middle and high school. A lot of the demand at ES was from the parents, not the students, and often it was parents who wanted to send their child to school with a sandwich and have him/her purchase just the salad bar to accompany it. Problem is, the salad bar is not available a la carte - it is only offered as part of the full meal. That's because SFUSD pays for all of the salad bar fixings on a per-meal basis (so, if 150 meals are sold/served at a school that day, SFUSD pays for 150 salads. There is no way to account for lone salads, as it is not the salads which are counted.)

    Another issue is that most elementaries only have one person working in the caf, and s/he is busy during the meal service doing the USDA-required "counting and claiming" at the end of the caf line - checking kids' trays to make sure they have taken the required minimum of 3 meal components, and checking their meal eligibility; this year they will be using the touch screen to automatically qualify the kids. An adult is required to supervise this procedure, leaving no one to restock the salad bar when it runs out of cherry tomatoes or whatever (as happens pretty frequently - the bins in those kiddie sized salad bars don't hold much.) Younger students also have a lot of trouble using the tongs on the salad bar and, if unsupervised, have been known to just reach into the bin with their bare hands and grab what they want. There is no money to pay for a second caf worker in most elementary schools, and while schools occasionally believe that they can get parent volunteers to fill in, this rarely is reliable every single school day; what's more, it becomes a union issue if it is seen that by employing parent volunteers, a union job is being usurped.

    Finally, just having the salad bar requires that the school kitchen have not only sufficent refrigeration for all of the veggies and salad (which most don't) but also a triple sink (which most don't.) Because some ES cafs literally operate out of a closet, there is no room for additional refrigeration or bigger sinks, and no budget to pay for it even if there were room.

    So, maybe more info than you wanted, but please understand it is not just an arbitrary decision to keep the salad bars primarily in the MS and HS; there is some reasoning behind it. Still, when I started on the Student Nutrition Committee back in 2003, the only raw veg any student ever saw at school was baby carrots; now, all elementary students get the variety detailed above, and a wider variety when they get to middle school. Not perfect, but a million times better than it was.
    For more than you ever wanted to know about school food, please visit www.sfusdfood.org

  3. Dana wrote: "in addition, a variety of cut up raw vegetables will be offered several days a week, including zucchini, cucumber, "

    zucchini and cucumber are FRUITS

    you'd think a school nutritionist would know that, wouldn't you?

  4. I didn't know that either, but I have to point out that Dana is not a professional nutritionist; she's a parent volunteer advocate for children's health and healthy school food who has done this work basically full time (if not more) for years and years now, for no pay.

    Good information, though. Wikipedia ways that culinarily, zucchini and cucumber are treated as vegetables, but botanically, they're fruits.

  5. Regarding elementary schools and salad bars, I've observed in some ES cafeterias, with interesting variations.

    Miraloma ES used to have a salad bar, which was completely untouched by the kids. The principal didn't like or support it (he was outspoken to me about that). SNS eventually removed the salad bar.

    At West Portal's salad bar, the kids go for the finger food-type veggies and ignore the greens and the tongs.

    At Bret Harte's salad bar, many kids avidly serve themselves salads and eat them up.

    At every MS and HS I've been in, the salad bars are frequented, though some kids really like to fill their container with just a favorite veggie, especially cherry tomatoes. (This is OK and doesn't break any rules.)

    Lakeshore doesn't have a salad bar, so they serve the fresh veggie packs. I was there one day when jicama was the veggie. It was untouched -- I'm sure most kids were totally unfamiliar with it. Since I've seen kids eagerly eating jicama at other schools, my guess is that if the kids tried it, it would be popular. SO this begs for someone to set up a Lakeshore jicama tasting one day at lunch.

  6. Botanically speaking, cherry tomatoes are fruits too....fruits being the part of the plant that contains the seeds.

  7. Thank you for the detailed answer, Dana!

    At my school, the Kindergarten teachers eat with the kids so I forget that everyone else would be unleashed upon a salad bar with limited adult observation.

    The jicama was very popular this year and so was cucumber. Zucchini was a bit more of a learning curve. This year I'm going to do more classroom taste tests early on to increase interest.

  8. Apart from the fresh fruit and vegetables, the school food is still crappy. Pack your kids' lunches, they leave the meat out on sidewalks unrefrigerated.

  9. 8:11
    You have hit the nail on the head here. Making the eating of healthy food like fruits and vegetables part of the curriculum is a great way to get students interested in trying new, unfamiliar food. There is only so much that can be accomplished by putting fresh veggies out on the lunch line; if the kids don't want to eat them, it is kind of a waste. More nutrition education definitely has to be part of the equation. Please let us know how your efforts pay off.

  10. Here's the latest:
    Students at Visitation Valley Middle School will have an easier time hearing what’s going on in class this school year, when the production facility for the SFUSD school lunch program moves from their campus to a new site in Brisbane on August 6. The giant 18-wheeler trucks currently delivering all district meals and supplies to the Viz Valley campus will no longer be rattling across their schoolyard from 6am on. Three giant refrigeration units which held the district’s meals, and created a racket which drifted into classrooms, will be gone as well.

    The new 22,500 square foot state-of-the-art Brisbane facility, owned and operated by SFUSD’s meal provider Preferred Meal Systems, allows all production site work to be done in a climate controlled environment. Food and supplies will be received from loading docks and quickly moved to proper refrigeration in a completely food-safe environment. All government-required Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety procedures can be easily followed in the new facility, something which provided enormous challenges at the 1,000 square foot Viz Valley site. The lack of facilities at Viz Valley was problematic not only for ensuring health and safety of students, but also for employees working at the site. All those employees have been reassigned to other positions within Student Nutrition Services, with no layoffs or reductions in hours.

    The new production facility will be able to provide backup meals and supplies which can quickly be delivered to sites when shortages arise, so students should no longer see last-minute menu substitutions. The Brisbane site also will house enough emergency meals for the entire district in the event of catastrophe; for example, if a massive power failure resulted in many schools being unable to heat up their meals, the emergency meals, which are designed to be served right off the shelf, could quickly be provided so that students would not be left with no lunch. The smaller Viz Valley facility was not able to handle either situation adequately. But for the students of Viz Valley, the peace and quiet resulting from no longer having to share their school with the production site for the largest public feeding program in San Francisco is the best news of all.

  11. "Making the eating of healthy food like fruits and vegetables part of the curriculum is a great way to get students interested in trying new, unfamiliar food."

    Knowing the difference between a fruit and a vegetable would be a good start.

  12. 10:52: You must be a delight at parties: "Spiders are arachnids, not insects! Pluto isn't a planet! I'm really smart, everyone!"

    Nothing useful to contribute, eh?

  13. These people are always posting really long things about how evil taco trucks are and other nonsense, so I think they should know what a vegetable is and what a fruit is.

    I am still upset about that Pluto thing:)

  14. My kid and I are really sad Pluto is not a planet any more. It seemed like such a cute planet.

  15. Dana or Caroline, do you have any idea how the Mealpay payment system actually works in the cafeteria? That is, will the kids need to know their H0 identification # plus the password I used to set up the Mealpay account? Or what? I'd like to let my kids know what to expect on the first day.

    Also, they are upper grade students so remembering a PIN would be okay, but how does it work on the elementary level?


  16. Thanks so much for the update and for your hard work. My son will start kindergarten next year and although I'll probably send him with food from home, I am pleased to learn that meals aren't terrible. Do ES have snack times? How do those work?